Last month in old London town and across England, formal water rationing came into force again for the second time in just six years - and the creeping rationing of water meters continued to spread. Despite the rainiest April since records began, government minsters are openly speculating that total mains cutoffs and standpipes …
Do simple sums?
Non! c'est ne pas possible
Do simple French?
I suppose ocean ecology isn't important
Throughout the comment thread I've seen: "What does one do with the brine by product?" and generally the responses have been "pump it back in the ocean."
I'm guessing the fact that concentrated brine reduces oxygen levels in the surrouding ocean water isn't overly important. Similarly, the fact that most aquatic species are pretty highly adapted to specific ranges of water salinity - ranges which are disturbed by the return of high salinity water - isn't of particular import either.
There are reasons that most desalination plants require extraordinary environmental studies prior to approval - and it isn't just because government employees are paid to impeded progress. One desal plant in an area might be sustainable - as you extract larger amounts out of estuaries - even large ones like the Thames you reach a critical point where the local ecology cannot withstand the impact.
Mayhaps, a more rational concept might be a mixture of desal, re-use, and conservation? Nah, because at least two of those would require some level of personal responsibility and / or modification of behavior.
Unhappy face because I've actually worked in the water / wastewater industry and know there isn't a simple, singular panacea that is ignored because silly greenies just don't want to be practical...
Re: I suppose ocean ecology isn't important
I reckon before any desalination plant would be built there would be a proper study of the enviromental factors carried out beforehand, but doing some off the top of my head logic:
5X amounts of water is taken from a river/ocean, whatever.
3X amounts of water with a increased salt content is pumped back into the source
2X of water without salt is used, abused and then put back into the source (londonians flushing their toilets/washingmachines/showers/baths back into the thames.
there would be some evaporation, and some absorbtion by lawns and such, but the majority of the water would get back into the thames and I can't see how it would increase the salinity notably.
(taking water out and adding it back in either through pumping the brine back or from household wastewater getting back into the thames would obviously not occour at the very same spots, so there would be localised increases in salinity)
Maybe just use less
Reading the article the logic seems a little flawed - surely the cheapest option is to use less - encourage consumers to do this by metering (i.e. you pay for what you use with variations depending on household size). Mind you I live the North so its not really an issue at the moment (maybe some Londoners should move North...Or not)
Sea water contains a lot of boron which passes through the osmotic filters. You wouldn't want to drink it undiluted if you are young, old, etc. Allowable levels of boron have been bumped up lately in places where osmosis plant are being built without any new empirical evidence. I think you'll find recycling waster water is a much safer, smarter and cheaper option if possible. People just have to get over drinking recycled water.
For a good summary see
There is NO real drought
This drought shit is all a conspiracy anyway between the private water companies - who want legislation to force metering on all households - and the makers bottled water who want to sell more product. This latter might be a joke. You decide.
I was in Bonaire a number of years ago and all their drinking water is desalinated. The result is that tap water is pure and clean and you don't have to worry about drinking it as a tourist. Extra bonus, but only if you don't mix it with the normal London water supply.
Perhaps the questions should be more focused on why a "natural monopoly" like water supply is privatised ? Electric and gas can almost be justified as they could be considered as competing with each other, but water ?
Use less, use it differently
No comment about the maths, but whatever the price of desalinated water, it's bloody expensive if you're going to then use it to flush half a pint of pee down the loo.
I'm sure it's not too complicated to work out some modifications to household plumbing systems to create a holding tank for bathroom waste water that is then used to fill/flush the toilet. 30% of household water goes down the pan (source: Waterwise). Yes, you'd use a teensy bit of electricity to pump the water from the bath to the tank, but it's a hell of a lot less than desalination!
Whatever happened to the innovative stuff like rainwater collection (on a grand scale), domestic level cleaning & recycling, metering, industrial size "dew condensors" for farms etc etc.
A lot lower technology and energy requirements. You can then keep the desalinators for "emergency use", which would be rare. Afterall, collecting just 50% more of our rainwater would solve most of the drought issues.
Surely the problem...
...is a combination of over population in the affected areas, much more people than the water systems were designed to ever need to cope with, coupled with the sheer idiocy of having companies, whose only purpose is to make a profit, running vital infrastructure.
And before the pedant-mobile turns up, all private and publicly held companies exist for one sole ultimate purpose, to make a profit. That's the part of capitalism that people fail to understand.
All the previous comments already deal with Lewis, so I needn't add anything more there :-)
Resevoir or National water grid
I see that the government is cancelling an idea to build a resvoir in Oxfordshire that I think is half the size of lake Windermere for £1 Billion because of a few animals or something. I can't see why we can't go ahead with it. I don't want sea water. I am told that the process is not perfect. There is still the taste of salt in the water. The water tastes bad. I don't want second rate water. Why can't we slowly work towards a good solution and pay the bill over a long time and be done with it. Also slowly put in a grid system. It would be good to have the water authorities competing with each other to bring down prices like we did with the electricity and gas suppliers.
This article is great.
It seems that most of the 'mainstream' media is completely falling for the "not enough rainfall" line that the water companies are using. The fact that inept management and inadequate investment from successive governments and private water companies over the last decade has led to a woefully inadequate water system seems to have gone unnoticed.
It's nice to see somebody looking at the problem slightly differently, and doing some basic maths to come up with a new solution. I don't even care if it's accurate (although it looks pretty logical to me). At least it's a better attempt at a solution than hoping it'll rain more over winter.
The main issue here is that we privatised our critical infrastructure for a few short term quid, and handed over the reigns to some clever investment bankers who proceeded to - shock - make profit their singular aim. Oh sure there are rules, but the power is already been seeded.
Beckton is a token gesture, a hint that they do know what they ought to be doing, but why should they care.
Government have never been as strong or as clever as the bankers. OfWat, or any regulator come to that is hopelessly outmanned. We just exposed the banks as cheating liars, bailed them out, and now we all go back to sleep.
But at the end of the day we voted for Thatcher and got privatisation, and a few cheap British Gas shares. We were the greedy ones.
Seeded != ceded
Re: Blame Thatcher
Actually, no "we" didn't. I was 9 when she came to power. My parents - and the vast majority of people in Scotland and other areas of the UK - didn't vote for her either.
Still - everyone in the UK continues to pay for the idiotic concept that critical civil infrastructure is "more efficiently run" by the private sector. Surely this myth has been well and truly busted? Sure, some people in the 70s voted for that shopkeeper's daughter - but how many of them would have been even remotely aware of the whole privatization angle and it's probably consequences?
The British sheeple have been sold down the river, and are up a creek with a paddle on this though. How laughable is it that a wet island like the UK - and not that long ago the epitome of 1st world technology - can't even keep the taps running, which if I remember my high school geography was one of the defining criteria for a "civilized 1st world" country. I'm just glad I left!
I emailed them asking if they could provide me figures for the total volume of water storage facilities they control and their total number of customers, immediately prior to privatisation and currently. It took them a month to email me back with "Why?" (obviously I've condensed it somewhat but that was the gist).
Re: Thames Water
Yeah cause it's not like it is on their website or anything, oh wait a minute yes it is.
Table 7 for number of water customers, table 3 for props connected to sewerage system, tables 10, 10a and 10b for meaningful stats relating to demand and deployable output, total storage volume is a meaningless metric.
Re: Thames Water
"...tables 10, 10a and 10b for meaningful stats relating to demand and deployable output, total storage volume is a meaningless metric..."
Well, up to a point. Total storage volume IS meaningless on its own - it needs to be related to average/peak input to the system and average/peak demand. If the input or demand vary considerably, then increased storage is needed to buffer the variation. If the figures do not vary much, then you can get away with little storage.
This data can be obtained from the Thames Water data and other sources, but only after a great deal of work. When you do this, you find that average input varies quite widely. Year-on-year variation of 33% rainfall either side of the nominal average is quite usual. And demand is constantly rising.
It is easy to see from this that, unless storage is increased in line with demand, we will first start to hit problems when there are exceptional years, and then this issue will increase so that problems will occur during the 'dry' parts of otherwise fairly normal years. Eventually, supply problems will become endemic, and occur at all times, even when there is quite good input. This is beginning to happen.
In 2004 the SE water companies proposed 5 new reservoirs and three extensions to existing reservoirs to cover their predictions, and avoid hitting supply problems. ALL of these plans have been rejected at the planning stage by government inspectors, who appear to be applying a 'demand management' strategy rather than a 'supply management' one. There has been no discussion of any need or justification for this, and it appears to be based on a mistaken concept of water as a 'scarce resource'. It is not, of course. It is an infinite resource which passes through us in a cycle. We can store as much as we want to, and our storage will not affect the sum total of water available to the world one bit.
The typical argument you will see in the rejection of these plans is that:
"...this reservoir will not be needed if demand can be cut by 20% in accordance with government policy..."
This is true. If we cut our demand by 20% (which is the figure specified in the government's water strategy document "Water Futures"(2008), then we will not have this problem again until the SE population rises by another 20%. What is rarely mentioned is that the cost of 'cutting demand' (beyond a few small token projects) is high. Providing rainfall storage on all commercial buildings, for instance, is nearly 100 times more expensive than providing a reservoir and supplying the same amount of water to the buildings via the mains.
The other thing that is not mentioned is WHY we should be doing this. 'Saving water' does not actually 'save water', because water is never destroyed. What it does is 'save centralised infrastructure expenditure'. At the cost of greatly increased local infrastructure expenditure. And, if you are worried about environmental issues, using localised infrastructure is vastly less efficient, uses much more energy, generates much more CO2, and is much worse for the planet in every sense.
So why do we do it? I have not got any answer for that. It makes no sense from the figures. I believe that it is happening because the magic words 'save' and 'environment' can be wielded by a 'green' policy maker, and because NOBODY in a policy position is able, or wants to, understand a mathematical argument....
Dr. Richard North's website (eureferendum.com) has the background on this. Bloke's a expert on the guts of bureaucracy that most of us would rather not delve onto.
Re: back story
And as North correctly observes, it's not the British politicians that are to blame. They are quite powerless. The UK government has been castrated by the EU and reduced to the legislative level of a parish council. They have no power to set water policy, and in fact the only power they do have is to obstruct other peoples' efforts that for one reason or another don't line up with the directives from Brussels.
One wonders why our leaders don't come out and admit this. Perhaps they think it would be like standing up on a porn movie set and admitting they're impotent, but the shame would be momentary compared with the scorn if they insist on trying to complete the movie.
What about dam building?
Nearly 100 years ago, the Netherlands built the Zuiderzee Works (a big dam) and turned a salty sea into a giant freshwater lake. The UK could easily build something similar, from Margate up to Harwich, say and Londoners would have all the freshwater they could ever want, no desalination required.
A bigger upfront cost for sure, but there are other benefits. In the Netherlands, they reclaimed some land, for new towns and farming. If we could replicate that, it would be really useful for densely populated SE England.
Re: What about dam building?
Never mind the natural and farmed marine life that are in that area eh?
The Whitstable oysters are the first that spring to mind.
(not that I'm personally bothered, can't stand shellfish)
are mutually exclusive aren't they ?
applies to all extremists regardless of colour
So... rather than trying to consume a little less, we should spend money to selfishly continue wasting water in a horribly inefficient and wasteful manner.
How about we go without the luxury of spraying potable water on the dirt, get off our lazy asses and use a watering can or a sponge and bucket, and spend the money giving drinkable water to some of the poor sods int he world who don't have any?
Helping people who don't have safe drinking water is a laudable aim - but not one that is incompatible with re-examining our own water supply infrastructure.
Intuitively there's something daft about making water that is safe to drink and then using it to flush our crap away but our first thoughts on the process aren't necessarily correct.
A single, national infrastructure to supply drinking-quality water for all purposes may be cheaper that a series of more local systems for water collection and re-use.
As the water itself is not 'wasted' it's reasonable to make a decision based on cost (you might want to include 'green' costs if you are that way inclined).
Do what they do in Australia: Collect rainwater from your roof and store it in a bladder. Use it for the garden, cars and toilets.
It costs a couple of grand per house at start-up but saves in the long term.
Desal is expensive. Start simpler and smarter.
Faced with the real risk that, even with permanent and stringent water conservation measures, the reservoirs supplying the Aussie city of Melbourne will run dry during the *actual* drought conditions that they now face (ie: during the dry parts of the El Nina/La Nino cycle that affects that part of the world it doesn't actually rain at all, sometimes for years at time), they invested in a desal plant for nearby Wonthaggi. So far it is two years late. Capital costs have risen from AUD3.1B to AUD5.7B, or £3.6B. Although it hasn't yet delivered any water, in theory it *will* be able to deliver something like 150 gigalitres a year, or ~ 1/3rd of the needs of Melbourne.
Desal is always an option, but it has to come a *long* way after doing some simple stuff - like actually having some reservoirs to store the stuff that we currently let run off into the sea or merely building the pipelines around that country that would let market forces work.
Re: Desal is expensive. Start simpler and smarter.
The problem in Australia is politics - it's ten times worse than in the UK. 'Normal' water consumption (domestic, industry etc.) is dwarfed by consumption by farmers. There is no need for the dry south east of Australia to be growing that much food, when it could be grown and imported from the wetter north.
And of course, politicians there prevent the price of water from varying enough to put the farmers out of business, which it blatantly would if domestic users were allowed to compete in a free market for it.
Infinity or not?
"...Supplies of water on this planet are not actually without end - even the oceans aren't truly limitless - but they are infinite in a practical sense..."
This betrays some odd thinking by Lewis. It is true that the oceans are certainly not 'limitless', but we do not drink the oceans until they are dry.
Water moves in a cycle through us. The water we have drunk is not destroyed - it just passes through us back into the hydrological cycle. We can, and do, continue to drink the same water, and can keep doing so until the end of time. It will not, and can not, run out.
I would say that this means that supplies ARE infinite. Unless Lewis can tell me where the end of the line is on a circle...?
Re: Infinity or not?
where the end of the line is on a circle...?
In a few billion years when either the solar wind blows the atmosphere and oceans clean off the face of the planet or when the earth drifts far enough from the shrinking sun that the atmosphere and oceans freeze.
"odd thinking by Lewis"
No, his thinking on this particular point is fine.
It doesn't matter that water moves in a cycle, there is still a finite amount of the stuff.
It's such a staggeringly large amount that we are unlikely ever to have to give it practical consideration though.
Emisisons & Cost
Ah another 'Analysis' from Lewis. Some crude back of the envelope calculations:
Greenhouse gas emissions from desalination are by no means trivial. Assuming that the 7kWh per tonne figure is correct then this equates to greenhouse gas emissions of 3.4kgCO2 per tonne (based on 0.48644kgCO2e/kWh). Current ghg intensity of water supply in the UK is 0.34kgCO2e per tonne so we're talking about supplying water with 10 times the GHG emissions as is done currently.
http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/reporting/pdf/110819-guidelines-ghg-conversion-factors.pdf for the factors
And people who hate on renewables (i.e. The Register) are always telling us how having backup plant is wasteful and expensive. But here Lewis is proposing constructing a load of desalination plants for the occasional drought. What is the cost of keeping this plant operating under capacity?
They're also telling us how renewables are putting intolerable burdens on our energy bills but here Lewis is suggesting adding £22 of OPEX (being kind and ignoring the suggestions in comments above that this is an underestimate) and £25 of CAPEX (assuming it's paid off over 20 years and I can't be bothered to calculate the NPV) per *person*.
That's an increase in water bills of over £100 per household per year which represents an increase of nearly 30% in the average water and sewage bill (£350). But that's the cost of water AND sewage so the cost of the water component of your bill would likely increase by well over 50%.
What a great suggestion this is!
Re: Emisisons & Cost - thumbs up
I agree - I can't believe how many people here up vote everything that gets them something - with no thought for how damaged our environment already is. And a stupid little bit of recycling isn't going to help either! Jeez - the problem is already far worse than that. Policy of declining population levels - ultimately better standard of living. Each child NOT born = approx. 70 years of 100% recycling. That IS effective.
Re: "What is the cost of keeping this plant operating under capacity?"
Alone among British water companies London's Thames Water does actually possess a single desalination plant, at Beckton on the Thames Estuary, but this only has the capacity to produce 150 million litres a day - less than 10 per cent of the city's requirements - and it is run at low output or *completely shut down* most of the time.
Re: "What is the cost of keeping this plant operating under capacity?"
Well it doesn't actually tell us anything about the costs of undercapacity... and the costs of having 15 plants which are almost never operating? Who is going to finance that?
Here's a plan that costs nothing at all - cut the wages of public sector employees in London and encourage them to move to wetter places. Then you don't need as much water in London.
Unfortunately the government wants to do the exact opposite, and crowd the South East further. With any luck, that corner of the country will reach critical mass, snap off and sink.
In general, the whole "why should I change my lifestyle - SOMEONE should DO SOMETHING about getting me more water" attitude is pretty hateful. If you live beyond your means in terms of any resource, be it money, water or whatever then either earn more, use less or go and live somewhere you can afford.
Well, fine. I'll move where the binmen and nurses go - enjoy yourself with the lawyers and bankers.
I don't live in London, but never mind...
'Innumerate' , Shirley?
Couldn't we just use a water wheel to produce the electricity needed to run the plant and then use the same water to desalinate?
So, the water falls over the wheel (special electrification magic takes place) and then the water passes into the desalination area for processing.
Bits about sludge, excess salt etc are all minor points..we'll sort those out later.
There has been a peculiar turnabout in regards to all products derived from natural resources - to use less rather than create more, as we've done in the past. Why are western societies obsessed with making things more complicated (e.g. creating an infrastructure to reuse greywater) and our lives less enjoyable by enforcing rationing rather than just investing enough to make resource waste an irrelevance? We can create vast amounts of electricity (and reduce carbon emissions, if you care about that) for homes and industry by investing in nuclear, we can create hydrocarbons for vehicles by investing in biotechnology that produces kerosene via algae, and we can create drinking water by desalinating the sea. I'm not advocating the idea that all resources are infinite, or that stopping the waste of comparatively rare materials isn't a laudable goal, but to the most part we're talking about replacable resources which can be practically generated using modern technology.
Sooner or later society is going to have to grow up and realising that reducing resource usage and waste is only going to have a marginal effect in solving problems of supply in a world that's becoming more and more densely populated with increasing living standards.
Beacuse each tech has its detractors.
Nuclear? Guess where the term "Not In My Back Yard" became famous. Everyone's scared of a plant become the next Chernobyl (sorry, but rare as it is, nuclear plants HAVE failed with consequences that are extremely difficult to measure--and therefore VERY scary).
Biofuels? If it were really all that, why aren't private firms lining up at the gate to try to work on the next big thing since the oil well? Indeed, how close are we really to a commercially-useable technology for making fuels from plant byproducts? And for that matter, how do we get the byproducts together to start the process, and all the other small but costly logistics that are needed to get the hob done?
Desalination? Power-intensive, and without access to nuclear power (remember, the next Chernobyl?) it becomes impractical. Most places that desal are like the Middle East or small island nations: lacking in alternatives.
And YES, these detractors REALLY WOULD rather go without than invest in making plenty because they believe excess breeds decadence which in turn could cause corruption and eventually the end of civilization as we know it (just look at Rome, they'll say).
Misses the point
Water conservation is one thing, and rationing is another. I'm sure alternatives to rationing can be found in the non-arid region in and around London. I think the author of this article gets totally bogged down however in staking his entire argument on a specific methodology of solving the problem, without sufficiently looking at the "big picture" impact of that methodology. There are many sources of information on the downside of desalination. One such puts it this way: "The process of desalination is not per se environmentally friendly and seawater desalination plants also contribute to the wastewater discharges that affect coastal water quality. This is mostly due to the highly saline brine that is emitted into the sea, which may be increased in temperature, contain residual chemicals from the pretreatment process, heavy metals from corrosion or intermittently used cleaning agents. The effluent from desalination plants is a multi-component waste, with multiple effects on water, sediment and marine organisms. It therefore affects the quality of the resource it depends on." [http://www.paua.de/Impacts.htm]
While desalination has certain significant positive points, it is not without its hurdles to be overcome.
But that's not the point. More intelligent use of water would be more helpful. Don't water those gardens in the peak sunlight hours (oh yeah, I forgot, we're talking about London here! But still...). Use collected rainwater rather than mains water to do so. Whatever. Solutions can be found, short of rationing. It's amazing what can be done if people are just mindful of the fact that they've left the tap running while brushing their teeth, and other such everyday occurrences.
Maybe I'm a cynic.
Why don't we build the desal plants next to the nice new shiney nuclear power stations that we started building 10 years ago to replace the nasty old dirty CO2 emitting fossil fuel stations that will soon be at their end-of-life status....
Sorry, what did you just say? ....
What do you mean, "We don't have the new nukes."
So basically what you're telling me is that we had a bunch of complete fuckwits running the country for years who couldn't even play "Civilisation"?
But then can you get a C&G or NVQ in actually running a country and not just an election campaign?
Oh well, no point in fitting the electric shower, no power to not heat the no water. :(
I vote we take all teh Carbon Tax, Tree hugging, Smelly Hippy's out the back and shoot them
Will Anyone else seccond this
Re: I Vote
Not sure if serious, but, if you are then I like you. You're an excellent example of the intellect level of greenie bashers.
well all that heat wasted by coal burning power stations
what most people forget is that the UK infrastructure water, power and gas are slowly becoming nothing more than a joke! but in the case of water desalination plants they require a massive amount of heat apart of the process as new power stations are being built i dont see why they dont use the wasted heat to basically bring water to 60-80 degrees cannot see why not..
In the past we had back boilers for hot water and heating matrix's which used a coal fire to heat the water and from experience very efficiently..
I think they saying goes stop wasting and start using!
on a side note.. down with the 5p plastic and PAPER bag tax..
That Sounds Plain Wrong
Firstly, reverse osmosis is *very* expensive to operate - this is why water companies stay away from it. If the existing plant you refer to were that cheap to use, then it would be getting used - not left standing most of the time. Energy costs are a significant cost in producing water - to the point where a great deal of effort is put in to managing the times at which such plant run, so that they use electricity when it is cheapest. Reverse osmosis requires a great deal of electricity.
Secondly, if it were so cheap, then water companies would use it - they may have a captive audience, but they are regulated by OFWAT, and have *no choice* but to choose the most cost-effective options, otherwise they aren't granted funding. OFWAT have to agree what the water companies can charge, and what they are to do with that money - so it's not possible to go for the more expensive option 'just because'. Indeed, the water companes *want* to use the most cost-effective option, because they get no push-back from the regulator, and in turn are then able to lower customer prices, which improves their public perception.
I get the impression you needed to write a story, but don't understand all the details - Most of what you said in that article made no sense, which is a shame, as normally articles on the Reg seem pretty spot on!
I can't understand why people are talking about unusual and costly methods of adding storage to our water system, or, even worse, methods of 'saving water'.
Low rainfall is NOT the primary cause of 'the drought', and this is accepted by the water regulators and DEFRA, who have told me as much. Rainfall has been low these last few years, but well within accepted variation.
What HAS had a major impact is the lack of reservoirs in the SE. In 2000 the increased population obviously required increased infrastructure, and this was covered in the water companies 25-year plans in 2004. 5 new reservoirs and three extensions were proposed.
ALL of these plans have been rejected at the planning stage by government inspectors, who claim that, if people could only use less water, the reservoirs would not be needed. The DEFRA 'Water Futures' plan (2008) states that per capita water usage will be cut from 150 Litres/day (this is a nominal figure, as it includes industrial and agricultural use) to 120 Litres/day. This is a 20% reduction.
So it is government policy that we use 20% less water. There is no justification for this, and there has been no debate about it. What makes it all the more amazing is that water passes by us in a cycle, and even when we drink it it none of it is destroyed. So it is not a 'scarce commodity' in any way - we could store vast quantities of it if we wanted and the total amount of water on the planet would not change one bit. When we talk about a 'shortage of water' what we really mean is a 'shortage of infrastructure'. And when we talk about 'saving water' what we really mean is 'making do with an infrastructure which is not providing enough..."
I have recently completed an economic analysis on the policy we currently have of requiring rainwater collection to be installed into commercial buildings. Gathering water, storing it as 'grey water' and providing a pumped dual pipe system to use it for flushing WCs is about 80 times more expensive than just letting the rain drop onto the ground, flow into a river and thence a reservoir, and then receiving it back again through the water mains.
80 times! This is as stupid as selling off all our gold reserves at the bottom of the market. Why are people accepting this?